In a special meeting on Tuesday, the Price River Water Improvement District board voted 3-2 to increase property taxes to pay for escalating costs of running the agency.
The board members who voted for the increase were Keith Cox, Tom Matthews and Tony Gonzales. Dissenting members were Betty Wheeler and Karl Houskeeper.
The tax increase is the first enacted by PRWID since it was formed in 1961, according to water improvement district sources.
The board's action will increase the taxes on a $150,000 home by 93 cents a month and add more than $160,000 per year to the district's operating fund.
The vote came after almost a year of preparation on the issue by the PRWID staff and study by the board since last November.
Because PRWID is a special district, state law required the agency to conduct two public meetings in the matter.
Opposition to a tax increase was almost non-existent at the first meeting in December 2004. But at an Aug. 16 public hearing, numerous citizens and officials asked the board to look internally to cut costs before approving a tax increase.
The comments from last week's meeting were discussed at length Tuesday night.
"I think we need to determine the needs of the district and whether the increase is needed to operate it," commented Cox at the beginning of the meeting. "The question is do we do that with a tax increase or a rate increase?"
Cox said it appeared to him that much of the district's rising operating expenses had to do with regional costs connected with all users of the system rather than just county residents.
"Because of that, I think property taxes address the sharing of this cost better than a rate increase does," added Cox.
But Betty Wheeler felt a tax hike was not the fairest approach and pointed out that Price only took a small portion of what residents pay for maintenance of the local in-city system that eventually feeds to PRWID's region sewage system.
Wheeler compared Price's and PRWID's annual sewer rates collections. Her discussion centered on sewer because Price operates a city water system.
Houskeeper said he believed the district's costs need to be more well represented in the yearly budget process than it has been in the past.
"I thought the presentations by the various district supervisors last week were very good and I got a lot from that," pointed out Houskeeper "I think we need to look at things more like that in terms of income and expenditures each year when we look at the budget. For instance I would like to see the costs of equipment as they pertain to water and sewer incomes."
Wheeler agreed with Houskeeper, indicating she thought the way things had been presented at the Aug. 16 meeting "was a clearer format" when compared with the yearly budget process.
Jeff Richens, the district's assistant district manager, told the board he wanted to give the members all the information they needed during the budget process. The district also gives the board a quarterly breakdown during the year.
Richens said he was open to ideas about how the staff could make the process and the situations faced by the district more clear for the board.
The vote on the tax increase was put off for a week because several board members wanted to study the issue before making a decision.
Matthews said he thought taking a week to look at things was a good move for all concerned.
"I was glad that Betty wanted to wait to take this vote," pointed out Matthews. "Joe Piccolo challenged us to find the money internally so we would not have to raise the tax rate. I would like to challenge him to help us to find that money. I don't like voting for a tax increase, but we have to look at the long term good of the district."
Matthews also pointed out that the district only has three ways to raise money to fund itself saying that they can either raise taxes, raise rates or cut services. Matthews thought taxes were the fairest way to spread out costs evenly.
However Wheeler referred to the comments from the public at last weeks meeting pointing out that most were opposed to any increase.
"I thought we had a good variety of people at that meeting and I have to say that I sympathize with those on a fixed income and spoke. I want to take heed of those comments."
The PRWID increase will appear on November tax bills.